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Good Friday Morning! As I was writing this edition, breaking news surfaced out of Japan. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot with what appears to be a homebrew shotgun in an assassination attempt. The local reports out of Japan suggest that he has no vital signs, making this a successful assassination attempt. It’s too early to tell the motives of the gunman.
Simply put, Shinzo Abe was the most influential politician and leader in the Indo-Pacific in a generation. Outside of Presidents in DC, Abe was unmatched. He rebuilt Japan, became a close friend of the US, and provided solid leadership in a time with little of it. There’s a reason Chinese nationalists are praising his shooter on their versions of social media — that gets past Chinese censors quickly.
This week, I’m discussing the latest polls and election fundamentals as we head into the 2022 midterms—links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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[7/3/2022] A More Expensive Fourth of July – Conservative Institute
[7/8/2022] Conservative laugh at comedy too – Conservative Institute
Democrats are stuck in a ditch, while Republicans ride high.
We’re past Independence Day, and the political landscape is taking shape for the 2022 midterms. With all the Supreme Court and economic data driving the news, I haven’t done a political horse race post in a while. As we get closer to November, I want to start setting some baseline expectations.
Generally speaking, Labor Day is when election fundamentals firm up, and everything after that is about testing where the data fits into the overall fundamentals of a race. The most significant factors in midterms are:
- The President’s Job Approval rating in the polling averages (RealClearPolitics & FiveThirtyEight)
- Second Quarter GDP Growth
- What is the primary macro-narrative driving the election? Is it for or against the White House?
Other factors can play a role, but these are always the most critical data points when setting election expectations. As the political landscape is getting fixed, it’s not an understatement to say that election conditions for Democrats are abysmal.
Democrats are entering the worst electoral environment for a political party since 2008, when Republicans got hit by the Great Financial Crisis of 07-08. If financial conditions worsen as 2022 goes along, much as they did in 2008, Democrats will experience even worse electoral conditions. 2008 was a recession, however. Arguably one of the three worst recessions in the last 100 years between the Great Depression, the Volker recession to end inflation in the 1980s, and the 07-08 GFC.
I’m already on record that I believe we’re in a recession now. My specific prediction is that the NBER will backdate the start of our recession to the fourth quarter of 2021 (November-December-ish). I’m not expecting an announcement of a recession by the NBER any time soon, but the evidence could be strong enough to impact the election.
I’ll walk through more of that in a moment. Let’s go through the facts and numbers on the ground right now.
Biden’s polling numbers.
Biden’s numbers are sitting near catastrophic levels for the Democratic Party. The worst part for Democrats: at no one in Biden’s Presidency has his polling shown the ability to recover. We’re 535 days in the Biden Presidency, well over a year and a half. After his honeymoon period of polling ended, his polling nosedived and has pushed lower ever since. Sure, there’s some ebb and flow in the daily noise, but the long-term trend is negative.
Polling data as of 7/7/2022:
- RealClearPolitics Biden Job Approval: 57% Disapprove vs. 38.2% Approve (-18.8)
- FiveThirtyEight Biden Job Approval (all polls): 56.3% Disapprove vs 38.6% Approve (-17.7).
- RealClearPolitics Generic Ballot: Republicans lead by 1.3 points.
- FiveThirtyEight Generic Ballot: Republicans lead by 1.6 points
RealClearPolitics is a simple polling average. Everything gets tossed into the mix and averaged out. FiveThirtyEight is a weighted average that adjusts pollsters based on “house bias.” It doesn’t matter which one you use because both tell the same story.
And the thing about these numbers is that they spiked in negative directions for Biden. Depending on how you measure it, since either the end of April or the first of May, Biden’s disapproval has gone up every week, and his approval has dropped. In the past, people have criticized the RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight polling averages because they include outlets like Tralfagar, Rasmussen, and other partisan-leaning polls. Those complaints have vanished.
The latest Rasmussen poll (-17) was better for Biden than the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll. Reuters showed Biden with 59% disapproval and 36% approval, the lowest they’ve measured for this White House. Biden was underwater — disapproval higher than approval — in every demographic measured by Reuters, except Democrats. Every other racial, class or voting demographic shows majority disapproval for Biden. And the Democrats are only giving Biden 69% approval in Reuters. In a typical poll, partisans will always support their President 85-95% of the time.
It’s not just Republicans and Independents who are mad. Democrats are becoming disillusioned with the President. The threat isn’t Democrats voting for Republicans; it’s that they won’t show up.
Why is Job Approval so crucial in elections? Because it’s near impossible for the President’s Party to outperform the President’s job approval rating. If Joe Biden sits at 38% on election day, Democrats will struggle to get more than 40% of the vote, and many will underperform Biden.
Long-time readers know I’m a fan of RealClearPolitics Elections Analyst Sean Trende. He’s correctly seen many election shifts in our time and writes soberly about both parties. He wrote a piece in January talking about the correlation between job approval and the expected Senate seats won by either party. At the time, Biden’s job approval was around 42%. Trende said:
At 42%, the model envisions virtually no chance for Democrats to hold the Senate and predicts a loss of four seats as the most likely outcome. At 42%, the Colorado Senate seat could potentially come into play, assuming that Republicans produced a credible candidate (remember that a relatively unheralded candidate held Sen. Michael Bennet to a six-point margin in 2016).
Now, it doesn’t necessarily follow that if things get even worse for the Democrats that they will lose six or seven seats. There’s a realistic floor for political parties in elections where even the hardcore partisans begin to turn on the President but nevertheless vote for their party’s nominee in Senate and House elections. The classic example of this phenomenon is 2008, when President George W. Bush’s job approval fell into the 20s nationally. Despite this, Republicans managed to win Senate elections in places like Kentucky and Georgia even though Bush’s disapproval brushed up against 60% in both states.
What happens under Trende’s model if Biden’s job approval drops to where it is now, 38%? Democrats are projected to lose five seats to Republicans in the Senate, making it a 55-45 Republican Senate. Notice in Trende’s analysis – in January – that he mentions Colorado could be a pick-up for Republicans.
With Biden’s approval well below 40% and likely lower in battleground states, Democrats have started pouring money into the Senate races of Colorado and Washington state. Politico reports that Democrats in Washington and Colorado (places Biden won by 20 and 13 points, respectively) are gearing up for close, narrow races in both states.
Remember, Colorado and Washington are the easy races for Democrats. If they’re trying to build firewalls in the “layup” states, things are much worse in the battlegrounds. Watch closely to see where Democrats give up first in the states of PA, NC, GA, WI, AZ, and NV. Republicans aren’t sending out their A-list squad; Herschel Walker, Dr. Oz, and J.D. Vance aren’t the strongest candidates. But if there were a year all of them could win, it would be this one. Democrats will give up on some of these states — the only question is when. They won’t announce anything, but money will stop flowing.
One final point on the polling here. The Generic Ballot has shown Republicans with a 1-3 point lead in the last month or so. You will find some Democrats arguing that the Republican’s slim lead in the generic ballot with Biden so low in the polls is bad news. This is false. Democrats have a built-in advantage in the generic ballot of around 3-5 points. If all things were equal in a given year, I’d expect Democrats to have a lead in the generic ballot.
Republicans gained seats in the House in 2020, with Democrats polling with a seven-point lead on the generic ballot. Republicans have never, in my life, held a generic ballot lead this large this early. People are shifting hard against Democrats right now, and that includes built-in advantages in the generic ballot (the edge has to do with there being more Democrats nationally).
The kicker: at no point in Biden’s presidency has his polling improved. Not once. He’s yet to show a comeback ability. I do think people are underestimating the unpopularity of Biden. He does not have a natural support base like any previous President (Trump, Obama, Bush, and Clinton had a fanbase). We do not know how large Biden’s die-hard fanbase is yet. He was a consensus candidate who won a narrow primary. It’s easier to peel off Democrats from a candidate like that than Obama, who was naturally charismatic and beloved by the base (Democrats are still scared of criticizing Obama).
GDP and the Inflation macro-narrative.
That leaves us with the other two data points for the fall: Q2 GDP growth and the overarching issue driving everything in November. We’ll get the official Q2 GDP report later this month. For now, all we have is the latest GDPNow forecast from the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank. Right now, that model is projecting Q2 growth of -1.9%, which would give us back-to-back quarters of negative growth.
If those numbers hold, I don’t expect the NBER to declare a recession. I wouldn’t be surprised if we experience a fight over whether or not back-to-back quarters are a “technical recession” in the press.
Generally speaking, a President with low approval numbers and negative GDP growth is not expected to receive much electoral support. That’s the obvious point. The less obvious issue is how the midterms factor in negative GDP growth and continuing job growth. There’s such a labor shortage right now that it will take longer for any recession or negative GDP growth to eat into the job numbers.
Most years, you can sync GDP growth and job growth. The pandemic continues to make this aspect of evaluation messy. The polls I referenced above usually reference the economy or inflation as the top issue. If that’s the case come November, job growth will mean very little in a high-inflation environment.
The million-dollar question is this: will inflation cool between now and the election? There’s a possibility of that occurring. But why would inflation be cooling? Is it because demand is cooling while supply normalizes, or is the economy slipping into a recession? We won’t know the answer for some time.
Remember, all macro data (GDP, jobs, economic reports) is old information by the time we get it. Recession calls and cooling inflation will be backdated calls, not something we necessarily know at the moment. That’s why Q2 GDP growth matters for the midterms — it’ll be the primary source of economic information we have going into the election. Q3 GDP data falls late in the election cycle.
Inflation is the dominant topic shaping the elections, no question. That could change, however. We could be talking more about recession by the time elections roll around, which is even worse for Democrats.
To recap: Biden’s job approval numbers in the polling averages set a ceiling for Democrats. Some Democratic candidates may push past this, but it will be challenging to do that in this environment. This environment is uniquely bad for Democrats. They will get blamed for everything because they’re in charge—thems the breaks.
Democrats would like the issue of abortion to save them, but there’s no evidence in the polling that it will. Biden received no bounce in the polls from the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs. FiveThirtyEight’s models have Republicans winning the Senate with an average of 53 seats and 225-250 seats in the House. Democratic use of campaign money suggests they fear much worse is on the way.
The forecast is good for Republicans and bad for Democrats. Right now, there’s nothing on the horizon changing those fundamentals.
Links of the week
When a quarter of the class identifies as trans – PITT
Black House Candidate’s ‘AR-15 vs. KKK’ Ad Is Based in History – National Review
The Ever-Expanding ‘Group Therapy for Liberals’ – Jim Geraghty, National Review
A Baltimore nonprofit that houses vulnerable tenants stopped paying rents. Now, some may face eviction. – Baltimore Banner
President Biden Is Not Cutting the Mustard: Young people are abandoning him in droves because he won’t fight for their rights and freedom. – Ryan Cooper, The American Prospect
Why I’m Giving Up Tenure at UCLA: The ideological takeover of my university has ruined academic life for anyone who still believes in freedom of thought. – Joseph Manson
Heads of FBI, MI5 Issue Joint Warning on Chinese Spying: Officials say Beijing employs large-scale hacking and global network of agents to steal Western technology; U.S. also warns about efforts to influence policy-making – WSJ
Questions arise over Warnock’s use of campaign funds to fight lawsuit: The expenditures were made to defend himself against seemingly baseless claims involving his time as a pastor. – Politico
Biden Administration Sues Arizona Over Proof-of-Citizenship Voter Law: Justice Department says GOP-backed law ‘turns back the clock’; state Republicans say it is aimed at curbing fraud – WSJ
The case for the lab-leak theory: Why of all the cities in the world did Covid first emerge in Wuhan? – Spiked
Americans Have Had It With Inflation: Consumers are cutting back on spending as they contend with historically high inflation – WSJ
Yes, you can blame Biden for crazy gas prices—here’s why – Michael Shellenberger, NYPost
I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn’t Popular – Quillette
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
JP Morgan on recession and jobs.
Satire of the week
Poll Finds Americans Would Endure At Least 150 Million Dead In Exchange For Cheaper Burrito Bowls – Onion
Study Finds 92% Of Californians Who Flee The State Don’t Survive First Winter – Babylon Bee
I LIVED IT: I Wore Cowboy Boots to a Party and Now They’re Asking Me to Birth This Calf – Reductress
Thanks for reading!